397 Archipelago Indonesia '90 x land + sea—Timor > Flores > Komodo > Lombok
[ ... continuing our archival autobiopsychogeography, from where we left off in Australia, we now fly on to Indonesia. Unfortunately a lot of the photos from this trip didn't turn out for whatever reason (back when we used film cameras so didn't know til after) ... so we have no photos of West Timor + very few in Flores or Lombok that came out ok. So have us mostly only these transcribed journel words to remember it by ...]
Kupang, Timor—Nov 24 
Indonesia! At last. I'm here. After airline hell ... woke up at 5 a.m.... some couple was fucking in the pool. They saw me + slowed down ... but didn't stop as i walked by. Met Bob, got a taxi to the airport. He checked in, gave me the boarding pass + voila [we bought the ticket off him ... definitely something u cant do in this day + age!] Pain in the ass for him, all the way just for that. The flight ... my pensive euphoria listening to my walkman was interrupted by some annoying German + Australian businessmen.
Then, there it was ... Indonesia below me. Patchy + parched semi-forest, hills ... landing. Not as hot as Oz. Thru immigration ... smell of cloves henceforth permeates everything. Intimidating immigration officials in full regalia, smoking while they scrutinize. Customs ... into the waiting area + swarmed by touts all wanting you to stay in their guest houses. Latched on to a few other hip looking backpackers to split a taxi + find a place. Safety in numbers.
Got here to "Eden" in a taxi that sounded like it'd fall apart on every bump. Shirtless Indonesian men carrying strings of fish on poles slung over their shoulders. Smoke in the air. Narrow streets, people walking right on the road. Crazy drivers barely missing everything. Roadside stands selling fruit + fish. Children playing. Eden—this funky place ... a little group of huts. Tety, the guy that runs the place is the smallest, kindest, most mild-mannered guy i've ever met. There's something in the Indonesia kindness—seemingly not a bad bone in their bodies (most of them). Not just genuine kindness, but a certain mild-mannered style, a certain wide smile while throwing their heads back ... + elegant hand gestures. Amazing, super chill people ... this is what it means to be "civilized". Far more civilized than Europeans (who call Indonesians uncivilized).
The troupe of backpackers i got associated with went downtown. Hilarious scene. Kupang doesn't have many tourists. These guys would latch on to us to practice english, effectively becoming our guides, but not in expectation of money. Went + got our tickets on the "cruise ship". Tried to cash travelers cheques, no luck. Some banks wouldn't, the ones that supposedly would were closed. Went back + took a swim.
"Bemo" rides are a trip ... these little mini-vans w/ certain numbers of lights that designate their routes. They want to stop for you, honking at everybody + anything that moves. Completely insane drivers. Chaos. It was great. All the bemos decked out, custom paint jobs, loud pulsing music, flags, decorations, pictures of body builders + bad heavy metal bands. Laura, Kevin + I went back down. Laura + Kevin are this really cool couple, i dig them. Kevin a skinny Kiwi Ric Ocasek lookalike + Laura has got the most fit body i've ever seen. We searched everywhere for a bank to cash travelers cheques, putting my phrasebook to good use. Walked around the dusty streets, everybody saying "hello mister, hello missus" over + over. Selling unidentifiable things. Lots of bemo rides. Everybody is extremely helpful + kind. Tety cooked an excellent Gado2 + fried rice. Yum.
Woke up as i was falling asleep—fucking nightmare. Loud throbbing disco music w/ psychotic voices screaming "you are my sunshine, my only sunshine" alternated w/ "country roads, take me home, to the place i belong." Soon to be the theme of Kupang, heard it everywhere, from every moving bemo. The Yanks (as i call them) were partying it up. Just that afternoon i was trying to explain to Craig + Jenny that Americans weren't that bad ... not all of us were obnoxious + loud. The Yanks did their best to undo all my work of trying to undo stereotypes. Plastered + unabashed ... Ric + John—good ol boys from New York. Body-building baseball types. The life of the party.
Woke up again + heard them haggling w/ prostitutes. Pissed off that they wouldn't do it for 5000 rupees (3 dollars). "I love to fuck" says 1 of them. "I could fuck anything (hic)." Why don't they just fuck each other?
Woke up at 6 to roosters. Went into town w/ Gary—my Scottish roommate ... accountant gone Indiana Jones. Had rice for breakfast w/ some spoiled fat 14-year old kid who claimed to be the grandson of an Arab sheik. He was ordering his sisters around, calling them "fucking cunts" (he learned english from Aussies). Claimed to have friends in the "polisi".
Then we were off to find an "optical" to fix Gary's glasses. No such luck in ordinary places. Ended up some street vendor fixed them, cleverly sticking this + that together for next to nothing. Meanwhile, i watched some man on the sidewalk selling strange herbal remedies. He had 2 live snakes, a book on sex education (in english), a picture of 2 boxers boxing + spontaneously combusting tablets burning on the sidewalk. He pointed at all these things w/ a pointer stick, babbling into a microphone in bahasa Indonesian ... what significance were these objects? How do they fit together? What do they have to do w/ the pills + juice from preserved animal parts he is selling? He had quite a crowd gathering, sampling his product + when i stopped to watch, even more stopped to watch me watching.
More bemo rides. A bemo ride is a culture filled event ... each 1 decorated + loud ... a roller coaster ride. Back to Eden, took a swim in the springs, the center of the community ... everyone bathing + washing, getting H2O. etc.
Big monsoon downpour. Hijacked a bemo, 13 of us, backpacks piled on the roof, us hanging out of the sides. Terrorizing the streets of Kupang. Dancing to "you are my sunshine ..." to the boat harbor. Got there at 12. Boat delayed til 6 ... 6 hours waiting in the blazing sun. Played chess w/ Craig + attracted quite a lot of attention. Beat him, then played some Indonesian kid + he completely slaughtered me. Didn't even seem like he was thinking. Best player i've ever played against, tho he was being very modest, said most Indonesians are better than him.
Ate mangos, drank H2O. Eventually got on the boat. 2nd class cabins, very posh. Showers. Running toilets. When you consider the price of free meals it wasn't much more than economy. The others who got economy (2nd sold out) used our showers + slept on the floors of our cabin. Great fun. Running about the boat. At sunset most of the boat took off their shoes + went into the mosque. Chewed the fat looking out over moonlit waters. Don't remember falling asleep.
Woke up again to Muslim devotional music blaring on tinny loud speakers, smell of cloves + spices. Crawled over sleeping bodies. The sunrise was beautiful. Could see the towering shadows of volcanoes. Flores. None of the Indonesians sleep ... they just hang out on deck smoking cloves + drinking coffee. Jolly, social people. The men sit arm in arm, walk hand in hand ... very affectionate to each other. The light slowly creeped up, lighting a lush rugged terrain, freshly washed by rain. Small elegant canoes rowed out to meet the ship ... straight out of Apocalypse Now. Dock full of street vendors. More bemo rides. Some man took us to his restaurant. This is Ende. Had rice + papaya juice. Watched a sort of governmental employee olympics—tug of wars + weird chase + tag games, team-building exercises. The winning team gave us all sorts of candy + food. Walked around the market w/ Mora—hippy Canadian girl. Drank coconuts + other unidentifiable but good nuts. All the women chew these beans which make their teeth red. All sorts of weird herbs + strange foods. Not much for tourists, expect some great textiles. Now i'm drinking avocado juice + waiting for the bus to Mone where we'll climb Kelimutu.
[the tops of the pages lined w/ images of various types of Indonesian fabric designs]
Top of Mt. Kelimutu, Mone, Flores—Nov 27
Went down to the terminal to get a bus to Mone. The bus had supposedly already left. We were gonna get this bemo to take all of us for 35,000 rupees + were about to get on when these 2 German girls go "no, no, this man is crazy + is trying to rip you off" + explained how they'd been sitting there for 2 hours playing cards to show they were in no hurry. We were confused at first, then concluded they were paranoid dipshits. Especially after they refused a large bus that would've taken all of us for 25,000. Were talking a few dollars for a 3 hour ride. Diane + i took charge + negotiated the bemo (for us original 13) for 30,000. Then the 2 German girls decide they want to squeeze into our ride when there was no room. Everyone looked around like "who the fuck do these girls think they are?" I was the only 1 that had the nerve to tell them to piss off ... "why don't you wait for another 2 hours in the blazing sun if you think this is too much to pay?" They did.
So we took off in our bemo on this one lane road, crammed in the back + our luggage piled on the roof. We were all completely drenched in sweat, dust + exhaust was pouring in + the car was bumping along this rickety road along this gorge. It was great. Ric + John (the Yanks) kept us entertained w/ their loud + sick humor. I have to admit, as much as dislike that type, they make up for it in comic relief.
We stopped by this river to tie our bags up as some started to fall off. Finally, this was Indonesia. Green terraced rice paddies, little huts scattered about, children w/ machetes, colorful women carrying loads wrapped in colorful textiles. The road was insane, hugging the side of this cliff. We could see 1000s of meters down, over the narrow roadside that was falling apart. Over rickety bridges ... 1 of them made of bamboo + we were driving on these metal plates that were coming apart + bending w/ each use. We thought it wouldn't hold (we got out + walked across), but it did. Another time we saw a bag fly off the top ... it was mine! If it had fallen off anywhere else it would have rolled off a cliff never to be seen again. Whatever, no big deal.
The 50 km ride took about 2 hours. We got to these bungalows, really quaint, then set off down to these waterfalls which were incredible. Gushing fresh water pouring into this pool which was the center of the community. All the locals were swimming + bathing + washing clothes + just generally having a good time. They really got a kick out of us gringos. We all jumped in w/ them, splashing the kids + sharing our soap (evidently in high demand). There was this vine hanging over the pool that some kid pulled up the side of the cliff, wanting me to swing on. I did, landing right under the falls. Great fun, like Tarzan. All the locals hooted + cheered. Then we had chicken fights in the H2O.
Back to the room ... had Gado2. Woke up at 4 a.m. to some flashlight shining in our windows + rats crawling in the walls. I was sharing a room w/ Laura + Barbara—2 Canadian girls from the same small town in Ontario (tho they'd just discovered that the night before). These guys w/ the flashlights wanted to take us up Kelimutu ... I declined (being 4 a.m. + all).
Woke up + went down to the market ... great market full of people selling whatever they grew in their backyard. Ate salted fish + little pastry balls + fried bananas. Bought 4 mangos, a lemon, more bananas, a coconut, pastries, then went back to eat them. Stopped at some women's house that spoke good english + showed me some excellent sarongs + belts. Natural dyes + really soft, handmade. Each sarong takes 1.5 years for 1 person to make. Imagine what they must feel when they sell them.
Went back + everybody was settling into siestas. Gary + I decided to climb Kelimutu then + there. We couldn't camp up there (Jed + Anne went up + got sent back). Jed + Anne are really cool people from Vermont. He just got his B.A. in biology + is going to do malaria research in Irian Jaya. Anne just got thru w/ 2 years in the Peace Corpse in the Solomon Islands. Their attitude was totally lax + good-natured.
Anyways, once Gary + I fixed on the idea to climb Kelimutu, Ric decided to ... then Laura ... + everything became really complicated ... which way were going, what we were bringing, were we gonna spend the night up top, etc. I said it was just a matter of walking up + that we should just start walking, finally just [left them all ... got 2 liters of water and—the next page of cigarette gifting + backpacker drama (below) we won't even bother to transcribe ...]
Bajawa, Flores—Nov 29
I'm laying on a bamboo bed in my own single room. 1st time i've had a room to myself besides 1 night in Aitutaki (+ it feels great). Started the day in a pisser of a mood, but it was all uphill from there. Woke up w/ the intention of pushing on to Ende. But they all had arranged a bemo + it would've seemed rude if i split + got on the bus. So i waited w/ them. I had to pretend smile + be friendly. After many hassles we got a truck to take us all ... an open aired truck so we could see the countryside well. I tried to tune out from the people + into the immense mountains, waterfalls + people walking along the roads.
Back the same route over the same rickety bridge. I was tired + annoyed + feeling asocial when we arrived in Ende. So I immediately jumped off + caught a bus to Bajawa + lost ½ the "group". Anne + Jed were still w/ me which was cool cuz i dig them. Then who should show up but the stingy Germans girls + co—8 of them now. Of course they got on our bus, just our luck. "Where are you from? Where have you been?" etc. I told one girl i was from Nigeria + she didn't ask any more questions.
The bus was packed. So Jed + I climbed up on the roof. It was great up there. I sat on a bunch of coconuts holding on for dear life. We had to duck low under hanging branches. The road was no longer paved—just a dirt rut—a trail, as if made by a large truck plowing thru the jungle. Thru rivers. Thru many villages—all the people would run out of their houses—get up from their naps to yell "hey mister!". "Halloo meestair!" Each village has a pump, a tank of water + a surrounding moat where everybody bathes (w/ large loose sarongs on). Everybody in all of Flores gives us the biggest grins ... I've probly heard "hallo meestair" a thousand times today. The feeling was incredible ... hanging on to this rinky dink bus winding up the only trail in Flores, hugging rugged mountain-sides. So much to see. We had to climb in at every town cuz of the police. Evidently it's the law not to ride on the roof (tho busses do it all the time). Then we'd climb back up. People would throw us mangos + other fruits. We got covered w/ dust. I have durian sap smeared on my leg from rubbing against them.
Back in the bus. Sat next to Anne + asked her all about the Peace Corpse + what exactly someone does in "community planning". Sound intresting (tho frustrating). Jed gave his tapes to the driver to play (he was playing loud Indonesian pop) most of the tapes they put in they immediately ejected ... except Madonna + the Indigo Girls. These met their approval. They really dug the Indigo Girls, they played it twice, turning it up very loud. "You can go to the east to find your inner hemisphere." Oi.
It was getting chilly, the sun setting. Arrived at last + took a mandi ..... there's an art to it. I really got into the ritualism of it. Even taking a shit in such a manner is gratifying. The "bathroom" is a hole in the ground + a tub of water next to it. The toilet is another hole w/ little grippy footholds to squat. No paper ... you use a water scooper + your left hand. Another scoop of water to flush. And bathing ... cold water poured over the head.
Then i went into the town ... finally exploring by myself. Found the market, people selling all sorts of stuff by candlelight. You can't get anywhere without having a full on conversation w/ every 1 that crosses your path. Found a little ruma makan + chowed these strange green leaves in curry over rice. Yum. It all cost about 25¢. Being friendly + talking to every one. Even just smiling + saying Selamat malan really wears you out.
Most unprecedented day. Woke up + chilled out. Went to the market + chowed down passion fruits + read all morning. In the afternoon Villy (sp?) + his 2 friends came by. They're these kids (16 years old) that we met the day before that wanted to take us to these waterfalls. Incredibly bright kids, we helped them w/ their homework—physics + biology problems. Villy knows 4 languages. So off we sent thru Bajawa on into the outskirts. We came to this village that just blew my mind. [ Even moreso as Vinny was ... continued below ...]
[Meanwhile all the kids of the] village surrounded us ... little girls w/ the most beautiful eyes. We asked Villy if we could take pictures. He asked this woman + she said OK. I snapped a photo of a Ngadhu, then this old man gave Villy a real bum rap. Villy shrugged it off, but i could tell the old man really railed into him. So no more pictures.
At this point the dozen or so pens i bought that morning came in handy. I pulled them out + almost started a riot w/ the kids. They grabbed them all away + were very happy. We continued on. Over the top of the hill w/ Mt Wolobobor right in front of us ... a huge volcano w/ steam billowing out of the top. Villy was telling us animated stories ... 1 about the ignorant man who went to Jakarta, a very rich man, who when asked if he wanted coffee or tea thought them both too boring so he chose 'OR ... + he told us how Mt Bolobobur + Mt Inerie were a husband + wife. She, Mt Inerie, was sposed to hunt pigs while he worked in the fields ... she didn't so he got upset + hit her. That's why Mt Inerie has a chip cut out (from her neck), but she hit him back, knocking his head off, thus the shaved off affect.
By now we were very much off the beaten track. We would run into these real wild looking hunters + offer them cigarettes. I've never seen such elated + wide grins in my life. Teary eyes + wide mouths w/ worn red teeth by much chewing of beetle nut, old-fashioned rifles slung over their shoulder ... 1 guy even had a bow + arrow. They didn't even speak Bahasa Indonesia, but lighting the cigarette was enough of a gesture in itself.
We came to a hill above the waterfall, below terraced rice paddies at the base of the volcano. By now 2 women w/ large baskets were casually walking next to us down the steep windy trail w/ the baskets on their heads. We got to the rice paddies full of workers. The men plowed w/ large water buffalos + the women hand-planted rice shoots. They saw us + started screaming "people from somewhere else!' (in their language, Villy's translation) + stopped worked to gawk at us. We pulled out another pack of cigarettes + they freaked. They came from out of the fields, completely covered w/ mud. Word spread across the fields. It was so amazing, their looks, they were just as intrigued by us (Jed, Anne + I) as we were w/ them. They were overcome w/ laughter. They ran back into the knee deep mud to show us how they plowed the fields + told us to take photos.
They were whipping the water buffalo randomly + having mud fights. They were so enthused. The water buffalos are incredible beasts, w/ striking but dangerous eyes. Beasts of burden ... immense + powerful. Up to their stomachs in mud, trudging. Of course my camera picks an opportune moment to jam up. This scene + the one on top w/ those 2 hunters (didn't even try to take a photo out of respect) will always be imprinted in my memory. So vivid. This is life. This is how 3/4 of the world lives. Passionately working the fields. Beautiful terraced rice paddies under a towering volcano.
[these particular photos described above didn't turn out, but here's 1 from elsewhere in Flores:]
We pushed on to the waterfall ... yet another beauty. Not a big deal for Indonesians as they are everywhere. Water cascading down 50 meters. Stripped down to our underwear + tried to swim tho it wasn't deep. We climbed all the way up to the top on rickety stairs built by some defunct hydro-electric scheme. Climbed back to the trail on this steep bank. The kids ran up in their bare feet w/out even breaking a sweat. We passed these guys w/spears on their way to hunt pigs. Tribal looking dudes w/ ornate carved spears. I cease to be amazed. The sun was setting a brilliant maroon + crimson.
Back in Bajawa we bought these 3 students beers, fried rice, tempeh, fried noodles + even "krokomole"—excellent + authentic guacamole—weird thing to have in a little Indonesian dive. We helped them w/ homework problems + made plans for tomorrow. Villy is going to take us to his village 30 km away. But Jed has to go ask the principal permission first (so Villy can miss school) + then we have to go buy some food. Fair enough. The Indonesians are not at all shy about asking for things. If you offer them a banana they will take two w/ no qualms.
Where to begin... the last 2 days have overwhelmed me. Let's see... Friday morning Jed went down to Villy's school to talk to the head mistress. He was mobbed by teachers + students + didn't return for about an hour, whence he told us they wanted us to go speak at the school the next day. But he couldn't free Villy. A little later Villy came by + took Jed back to the head mistress where he was finally released from school so he could take us to his village.
We then hopped a truck to Laja. A most amazing ride. The driver kept pulling more + more people in. The people looked at us + laughed + made all sorts of comments that Villy translated as "look at the foreigners" ... evidently the 1st time foreigners had ridden this bus. 2 hours or more up side roads, it was crowded w/ people hanging off the sides, i couldn't tell where we were going. We seemed to go up roads, turn around + come back ... in circles. My legs were jammed in a position i couldn't get out of or stretch them. But people always seemed able to jump over the side + fit in somewhere ... along w/ all these plastic jugs, coconuts, chickens, etc. Patience is a virtue, claustrophobia definitely is not.
Finally our stop, but i couldn't move. Had to lift this board out of place so i could un-pry my knees. The truck left us standing in this beautiful village on the side of the volcano Wolobobor, facing the ocean. We went + sat on a patch of grass in front of Villy's house while he sent children off to summons his mom from the fields. He had not been home for a month. His mom was a widower living alone in this house—a typical bamboo hut ... dirt floors + thatched roof.
1 by 1 people started to accumulate in front of us. This was a place rarely visited by foreigners, if at all. They stared at us while we checked them out, everybody smiling. We were completely dependent on Villy. He was our only link. Then his mom came. She went into a spiel about how she was too poor + her house unfit for visitors, etc. We tried to reassure her that everything was OK. I forgot to mention, before we left we bought 6 kg of rice, 4 pineapples, a huge amount of "shipping cabbage", 2 dried salted fish, bread, etc. An event in itself ... Villy running around bartering between us + old women.
So they sat + stared more, then Villy told some kid to climb this coconut tree. He ran up + snagged some. Then they wanted to see us try to climb it. Entertainment for sure. We tried + i made it up to their hooting + cheering.
Then we walked to this traditional ceremonial "village" (where their dead ancestors lived) ... stopping on the way to give every old man we passed cigarettes. The ceremonial village was more spectacular than Bobo .. there were more Ngadhu + the setting better.
+ mostly all the people were friendly since we were w/ Villy. They all seemed proud to show us their village. We went to see the priest but he was in a meeting so we went for a swim instead ... down at the waterfall. It seems every village has a beautiful waterfall—air terjun. This 1 a large deep hole being perpetually filled by 2 gushing waterfalls. We tried climbing up to jump off, but kept falling back in—much to the amusement of the ever increasing following of about 100 kids who'd laugh hysterically. Then i went + jumped off the bridge which was about 10 meters high + the kids went nuts.
Back to the priest (w/ our entourage of kids in tow) ... i took a flash photo + the kids freaked ... they'd never seen a flash before. After that they kept wanting us to take pictures so they could see the flash. The priest was still busy so we played a big game of soccer.
Priest still busy so went back to Villy's house where his mom cooked us an excellent meal of rice, spicy slippery cabbage + the salted fish. We ate by candlelight, though the women (minus Anne) did not eat w/ us. Villy's sister came home that day so it was a special occasion. Finally we went back to see the priest + hung out w/ him for a while. Some dude from Czechoslovakia ... nicest house in town of course.
After that we went to his old teacher's house. As we approached it was all dark. He didn't come to the door for a while as he was praying. He seemed very pleased but apprehensive to meet us, perhaps cuz his english wasn't so good (for an English teacher anyway). He also taught music + religion. He admitted a lack of knowledge of music as well. He produced a flute, which he played, then i played some blues on my harmonica. There were also 2 women that laughed at everything we said + brought us coffee. He taught the kids both western + Indonesian music. Music is definitely a part of the culture in Flores. He left the room + returned w/ an old wrinkled photo of JFK that he'd cut out of a magazine. He prized the photo, he really liked JFK + knew all about him. Meanwhile i finished my coffee + slyly switched glasses w/ Jed + Anne as they hated coffee. They kept saying "finish up your coffee" all the time.
We went back to this big communal house, the men's hut per se. Inside were all the important men sitting on the floor along the walls ... eating rice + meat w/ their hands. A boy in the middle dished out palm wine from a huge bowl. We were brought rice + meat + they told us to eat. It was dog meat mixed w/ pork. I served myself some rice + quickly lifted my bowl to my face without anyone noticing i didn't take any meat [I was vegetarian at the time]. They kept insisting Jed + Anne eat some. Let alone the dog, Jed had never eaten pork in his life cuz he was Jewish. But he ate it so he wouldn't offend them.
Then the palm wine ... glass after glass. "Selamat Tunang". We kept toasting to the old man across form us who evidently was the head honcho. We handed him a pack of Aussie cigarettes that he examined curiously. I think they like the clove ones better. Soon the chief + Jed + I began to have "races". We would trade glasses then "bottoms up" ...the first to slam the empty glass down was the winner. We couldn't keep up w/ the chief, but Jed 1 the final round.
Everyone was in hysterics—the women laughing from the kitchen door (they weren't allowed in the main room). It was a wild scene ... everything so foreign. We had to return as we had to wake up early to "go to school" ... the 4 of us—Anne, Jed, Villy + i, on 1 bed, sleeping the short way ... barely room to sleep tucked in fetal position, specially for Jed. I'd wake up + Villy would be sprawled all over me or spooning me. Indonesians have no concept of cooties. On the busses or in public crowds, strangers will lean on each other or put there arms around each other. When i walked next to men, even 1s i'd barely met, they'd often take my wrist or hand + want to hold it. Men + men, women + women, men + women—all the same.
I didn't sleep much. They were still partying it up w/ the palm wine in the men's hut. The dogs were howling at the full moon ... other weird sounds. The bed just a bamboo mat ... no blankets or sheet. Had strange dreams ... woke up a few times cuz Villy was screaming in his sleep ... 3x this happened. He woke me up at 4:30 to watch the sunrise ... "do you want to sleep more?" he asked. He told me he woke up cuz his muscles cramped up + that he had worms in his stomach. I told him to eat fruits + veggies + milk for calcium for his painful tendons. He had no concept of nutrition. Many of the kids had rashes on their skin. Of his 4 nephews + nieces, 3 had died ... + his father ... didn't ask how. Their only water is a pipe trickling out the ground across the road. No electricity.
We watched the sunrise. A truck came but it was insanely full + wouldn't stop. Villy's mom brought us more rice + salted fish for breakfast + unbearably sweet kopi (coffee). Another truck went in the other direction ... we caught it so we wouldn't get passed up when it headed back down. When we got to Kautoka there was a big market. Most of the people got off. Since it was market day there, obviously nobody was going to Bajawa—they were coming. The driver waited for about an hour in hopes of filling the bus. All in all—the 30 km ride took over 3 hours.
When we got to Bajawa we rushed over to the school as we were supposed to be there at 8 (it was 9:30). We missed the class but they wanted us to come back at 10:30. I had to borrow slacks from Jed + we wore our best clothes. Went back + found our way to Mr. Alo. We were led to a class w/ about 30 students who seemed very excited about the new visitors. We stood in front not knowing what to do—just talked to the kids (16-18 year olds). The teacher came in. Her accent was so strong i could barely understand her. She introduced herself + asked us to stand up + introduce ourselves + say a few things. By now a few other classes had filed in, packing the room. More students + teachers crowded outside by the windows. Then the Q + A began. They asked some provocative questions + were all very attentive. Q: "when i approach a tourist to talk, why do they ignore me or walk away?" We had to explain that in America people didn't just walk up to strangers unless they wanted something + that tourists are defensive + might think there are ulterior motives, or just don't have time ... having to stop of course + explain words like "ulterior motives".
They asked all about our school + university system + were blown away by how expensive it was (private schools like Stanford). Then they asked about the state of the American Indians. Tough one to answer, what can you say? They wanted to know why they lived on reservations + why our government was doing nothing about the sad state of affairs. They asked about capitalism, they asked how university students (like us) could afford to travel around the world after they got thru w/ school. Luckily Jed did most of the talking, he's a good speaker + teacher.
After the session the kids just wouldn't let us go. We were introduced to all the administrators + teachers, etc... all quite exhausting. Finally we escaped, some of the kids tagged along down to the market. I bought a killer sarong, Jed bought a big machete. We went back to the losmen + took a nap. Our evening was full of appointments to meet all the kids that wanted to meet us to practice english. I went downtown to get a banana pancake, but could barely walk. All the students kept saying "Hi Derek! Where are you going?" How could i not stop + talk to each 1 after we told them the best way to learn English was to stop tourists + talk to them?
At the restaurant i met Francesco ... intresting character. His english was near perfect so i assumed he was a student. But he worked the busses + said he'd been learning english for the past 5 months from tourists, not in school. He was 1 of the 3-4 extra touts the driver brings along. He explained the purpose of this—they were "mechanics". Of course they also collect money + load stuff on the roof. He also filled us in as to why they pack the busses pack in so much. The owner of the bus gets money for 25 seats, then the driver gets money from whoever else he can fit on in whatever way possible. From that, the driver pays the touts.
Francescso was the neurotic intellectual type, chain-smoking cloves + chugging coffee while fidgeting, hugging himself under his shirt. He seemed nervous as in a week he was going to Jakarta to the university to study computer science. He kept alluding to strange incidences—problems w/ girls, time spent in jail ... + seemed to have major guilt problems cuz he wasn't Christian. He said he was afraid when he got to Jakarta he would try ganja + become a drug addict.
Jed + Anne joined us, along w/ a few other seriously intent students scrutinizing every word that came out of our mouths. Somewhere along the line i went to sleep, or i was interrupted or whatever. I can never catch up to reality in writing this. Now it's Dec 2 + i'm in Ruteng.
7 hour bus (roller coaster) ride on a muddy rut. Down to the ocean, where it became hot again. We stopped for gas ... i.e. a shack w/ a few dozen barrels in front, where 5 gallons were siphoned out. We also stopped another time to change 2 of the tires (diagonally opposite) at the same time as another bus ... + yet another time a truck had broken down in the road + in the process of going around we got stuck in the gutter. The tires on the left were off the ground while the right side was resting on the bank. If not for the bank it would've tipped. Had to get all the passengers off to get it back on its wheels + out.
Back up we went—wetter + cooler + lusher ... over valleys w/ discrete slopes (from rice paddies), like topological maps. Wedged into this seat w/ this guy sitting on my feet. Large bunches of green bananas + roosters. The aisles filled w/ bags of rice. Got to Ruteng before the rains began. It's been pouring since, for the last 2 hours. Napping in this "cell" overlooking rice terraces full of children + scarecrows.
Labuanbajo, Flores—Dec 4
Ruteng was a fresh change—cold + rainy. Walked around the market, met some more students. I also took a major trek out to the rice fields. Works of art—pure water flowing, from 1 paddy to the next. Hierarchy, strata, extreme order from disorder.
This morning got another bus ... 5 hours. This guy fell asleep against my propped up knees. Another on my shoulder, while my face was scrunched against a bag of rice. Got to Labukanbajo + found a boat to Waicucu beach. Anne + Jed went to the Merpati office so i went on ahead. Saw dolphins next to the boat. Water not so beautiful, slightly stagnant + polluted. Waicucu beach is not like how it's described in the Moon book ... bunch of Germans sitting around socializing. They've been here for weeks. I almost considered going somewhere else but i had all of Anne + Jed's stuff. Made arrangements for Komodo—lots of people eager to take us.
I went back into town to see if there was more people to charter a boat or find out about the ferry. Yoseph, this funny bohemian Balinese w/ a shaved head + pony tail wants to take 10 all the way to Lombok via Komodo, Rinca etc. ... too complicated. Ran into Justine + Penny, 2 English girls we keep running into. They wanted to go to Komodo + on. I played cards w/ Justine, then walked back to Waicucu w/ Penny. A very long walk, along the beach.
Labuhabajo ... looks like what i imagine Vietnam to look like, cluttered w/ banana shaped boats + bamboo huts hanging out over the ocean. The sun was setting + a strange storm was brewing. It began to pour on us. We walked around the rocks for a while ... i thought we were lost ... then we ran into Anne + Jed. Decisions, decisions. "Este decision me molesta". Finally decided we'd have Yoseph take us ... he'd pick us up at 3 a.m. to go to Komodo. They fed the "dragons" at 8 a.m. They slaughter a goat + let it bloat + cause a stench. Evidently the dragons dig this. Should be intresting.
Woke up at 2:30 a.m. A boat left at 3 a.m. from our place but we passed it up cuz we had faith in Yoseph. We had our doubts as we lay on the beach gazing at the horizon ... listening for the purr of a diesel engine. 3:15 ... 3:30 ... 3:45. Finally we heard a murmur that got louder. Hurried onto the boat, we were running late. All of us immediately crashed. Justine + Penny joined us, as well as Nick, Imaran + others that would become irrelevant in the scope of things. Yoseph was playing the part of Mr. Cool tourist guide while our captain periodically dozed off.
Watched the sun rise slowly over all the islands. It was like being on a lake—very calm + everywhere there were islands making it seem enclosed. Beautiful rugged islands, barren + deserted w/ dark grey-blue textures of clouds hovering on the horizon. The currents were eerie. They'd go calm, then suddenly whirl into strong eddies, like a swirling river, whirlpools spinning off, then calm again. The eddies + whirlpools collected debris. Deep in the water was navy blue phosphorescence. The whole scene something out of a fairy tale. Sailing on this little ship in strange + unpredictable waters w/ dessert islands, going to see dragons. Flying fishes jumped all around us.
It took 4 hours ... arrived just in time for "the feeding". Waited for 40 of us to gather + pitch in for a goat. We walked down to the feeding area + i met this guy from Palo Alto [where i lived at the time] along the way ... small world. The path went into this enclosed area (to protect us from the dragons) perched up on this 10 foot cliff. Below us were a dozen or so dragons scrambling about. They knew the drill, they probly did this every day. Awesome things—huge, living dinosaurs. They have these disgusting white forked tongues that they flick about. They were clambering up the cliff trying to get at us. I heard a baby goat bleating as it was being dragged off. I wished i hadn't seen or heard the goats. It bleated a few more times in panic.
A few minutes later they brought out a limp goat w/ its throat slit. They heaved it down into the pit. All the dragons lunged on it so you could barely see the goat ... just an occasional mouth ripping apart flesh, pulling out intestines or swallowing a limb whole. Within a few minutes the goat was gone. The last gesture being the largest one gulping the head in one gulp.
Went + ate some rice, then back to the boat to this snorkeling area + pristine white beach. The snorkeling was fantastic—lots of soft corals + many colors + fishes + clams + little polyps + jellyfish. Imaran didn't know how to swim ... finally talked him into floating around w/ a life jacket on + he was blown away (the 1st time he'd seen underwater).
The Bali beach boy dropped us off here. Had to part ways w/ Jed + Anne ... tho i might see Jed again in Jakarta + Anne next year in Berkeley. Got a room w/ Justine + walked all the way to the village of Komodo, clambering over the rocks for about an hour. We saw some mudskippers coming out of the water, then running back to the water as we approached. Talk about primordial—the missing link between land-dwellers + fish. The village was depressing, shanty houses w/ garbage everywhere + naked children w/ bloated bellies. There were lots of goats—seems the only purpose of this village is to raise goats to sell to feed the dragons, when they should be feeding the goats to the kids.
Bought some mangos. Couldn't find a boat so walked back. Skipped rocks + discussed favorite fruits w/ Justine. Ha, she just asked me to read what i'm writing about ... she's sitting right next to me + being nosey (that means you). Got back + took a fresh water mandi for the 1st time in 2 days. Then played cards w/ Nick, Justine + Penny—this game called Asshole where 1 person is the president, another V.P., the secretary ... + then the asshole. You set out to play your role in the pecking order. When you're asshole everyone can degrade you + order you around, "hey asshole, go get me a beer," etc. Great game.
Sengiggi Beach, Lombok—Dec 7
Early morning—Lombok—gazing at Bali from a rickety balcony high up above the beach. Except for the bustling bemos + mangy meowing cats everything is covered w/ a serene + peaceful layer ... a nice place to be after 26 hours of continuous motion (a new record?).
The last night in Komodo was mostly spent talking w/ Justine. Even after they turned the power off we sat on the balcony—a romantic mystical air, ghosts, tidal pooling of swirling water, deer (grazing below the balcony)(a.k.a. dragon food ... before they started feeding them goats) + who knows what else creeping into the scene. Dragons lurked in the darkness. During dinner 1 walked right thru the camp. Taking it all in w/ their slathering forked tongues. It's amazing how things change depending on the company you keep. I should probly go back to Timor again as my vision of it was warped by the bad company i was in. Justine is a pair of rose-colored glasses.
The next morning began 1 of the of the most intense continuous streams of travel i've ever experienced ... at 10 a.m. we boarded a little boat that went out to intercept this larger ferry. Stopped 1st at the village of Komodo to pick up more passengers + bananas, dried fish, etc. We met the ferry out in the channel + climbed aboard. Accidentally left my shoes on the little boat. I have been barefoot ever since. We parked ourselves on the deck amongst colorful women + children draped in sarongs w/ baskets of mangos + avocados + drying fish on crates. Justine + i played about 5 games of cribbage while these 5 old men squatted + looked over our shoulders trying to figure out the logic of the game. I guess cribbage is not so self-explanatory.
At first it was way too fucking hot—blazing in the direct sun—then it became too cold ... drizzling + the waves washed up on deck getting our things wet. We arrived in Sape on Sumbawa around 6 p.m. The dock was cluttered w/ little horse drawn carriages + it immediately seemed culturally different than Flores. Sumbawa is predominantly Muslim for starters. Got a bus up to Bima, a bustling little town. Got off + got some fried noodles + rice at a roadside stand. For no reason i was elated. My feet were off the ground. Motion. Changing reference frames. We got another bus—night bus to the other end of Sumbawa. Labuhar Alas. I remember dried up rice fields, horse drawn carriages + some sort of shrimp ponds in the mud flats along the coast. We were in the back + the road was insane. It was like a movie, shining from the headlights—trees swaying back + forth at great speeds ... at least relative to Flores. People were puking everywhere. This man puked his guts out right in front of us. He was not the least bit embarrassed or self-conscious. We are only human after all. I'm just glad i don't get motion sickness anymore [used to a lot as a kid]. One cannot be an intrepid traveler + get "motion sickness"—a contradiction of terms. Justine made a nice pillow to lean on. Half-dozing + talking til 3 a.m. everybody else sound asleep.
Stopped at 12 p.m. for dinner. Took a mandi. Back on the bus, Gus. I'm growing quite fond of Justine. The sun rose + we reached the east port. Bringing to life rickety bamboo houses on stilts w/ people sleeping on platforms outside. Hopped another ferry. Took another mandi. On the move. Thru strange twisted currents. Past deserted rugged islands. Lombok! Got back on the bus (it came onto the ferry w/ us). Rode thru Lombok to the west end. Ampenan. As we were riding i fell asleep dreaming of continuation—i woke up disoriented—expecting to take another ferry. Were we in Sumbawa or Lombok? Yes! We were here. Shuffled off the bus sleepy-eyed into a pandemonium of chaos. Got a bemo to Sengiggi. Stopped at the hospital to pull the stitches out of Nick's eye.
In Sumbawa we left all the other travelers in our dust ... now it was just Justine, Nick + i. Nick is this red-haired (what there is of it) + freckled pom [Oz-speak for Brit] w/ 2 black eyes + scars + bruises all over his face. He's got stitches above + under his eyes. All this from a fight in a pub in Perth. He's also got pus-oozing wounds + cuts on his legs from a biking accident (he was a courier in Perth). He's a mess. So Nick, Justine + i took a bemo, playing my REM tape thru a frantic maze, skimming people on mopeds, blaring horns, some of the most fanatical driving i've ever witnessed. 8 km to Sengiggi beach. Got this cool little room way up on this hill across the street from the ocean. Took a dip, were accosted by kids selling all sorts of hippie paraphernalia. The problem is this stuff is cool—batik, tie-dye, weavings, shorts, sarongs, ironically bad t-shirts ... + all cheap. Got 2 pairs of shorts + a T-shirt. Took naps. Then ate a tremendous meal ... maybe only cuz we had eaten nothing but fried rice or noodles for the last week or 2 ... had garlic butter prawns, stir-fried chinese cabbages + prawns in snow peas. The scene was great, the weather perfect. Non-existent temperature, nice breeze, spectacular sunset.
Justine + i then went + played backgammon all night + had real coffee (not nescafe). Went back to sleep but didn't do a good job of it. Justine + i sharing a bed (in a room w/ Nick). We stayed up all night whispering. Both confessed we were attracted to each other, but agreed to keep things platonic so as not to complicate matters. She's off to Hong Kong in a week or 2. Take it as it goes. It will be fun w/ her the next week. We were keeping Nick up so we snuck into the next room + chatted in there, but the mosquitoes were vicious, so we went back under the sheets. No one really slept. Stupid cats + roosters woke us up. Jumped in the ocean + ate pineapples in the waves. These kids cut up these really cool pineapple concoctions, cutting the stem leaves into a handle + slicing the skin in a spiral fashion (always 8 spirals!) So they easily come off in bite sized pieces. Yum. Now here i sit. An end of an era, of this journal. Go home now + ferment to 1 day bring back nostalgia. [followed by a collage of postcards]
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